In recent years, handheld devices have been an increasingly popular way to play games – and few handhelds represent this better than Sony’s PlayStation Portable. If you’re interested in this handheld but don’t know much about it, here’s the history, technical specifications, top games, and modern availability of the PSP.
A Brief History of the PSP
Sony first announced the PSP in 2003, though it would be more than a year before the first copies were released to the public. While ostensibly a gaming device, additional features like a TV tuner and video player made the PSP more of a complete portable entertainment center in a time when people didn’t have smartphones and tablets for that.
It also featured extensive connectivity features, allowing it to link to the PlayStation 3, other PSP devices, and wireless internet services. Altogether, this helped to make it a major competitor for the Nintendo DS, and the PSP would eventually go on to sell 80 million units.
Over the course of its life (from late 2004 to late2014), the PSP went through five major models. The PSP-1000 was the first release in the series, followed by the “slim” PSP-2000 in 2007. The PSP-3000 came out a year later, with its main feature being a better screen and a built-in microphone. 2009 brought the completely redesigned PSP Go, and 2011 brought the last model, the budget PSP-E1000.
The PSP launched in North America with an MSRP of $249. At almost a hundred dollars more than the Nintendo DS, the price was a concern, but the launch was successful in each region as buyers shelled out for what was, at the time, a premium entertainment system.
However, the most unique part of its history may be the inclusion of the Universal Media Disc format. Despite the name, this disc was only ever used for the PSP, but it offered significant advantages over the Nintendo’s DS cartridges. Most notably, the DS started with 64 MB cards – whereas the UMD could hold up to 1.8 gigabytes of data for games, movies, and more.
The heart of the PSP is the Allegrex CPU, which functioned with a 32-bit core and two embedded graphics cores. The first focused on 3D curved surfaces and polygons, while the second acted as a rendering and surface engine capable of handling up to 33 million polygons per second. A second CPU functioned for the primary media engine and video playback.
The original PSP-1000 had 32 MB of RAM and internal storage for the system software, which Sony increased to 64 MB in all later versions of this handheld. Visuals were projected onto a 4.3-inch screen (3.8 inches for the PSP Go), and games could be played from the UMD drive (except on the PSP Go) or downloaded from the PlayStation Store.
While it’s not as powerful as its successor, the PlayStation Vita, the PSP was extremely capable for its time – and that’s unquestionably one of the things that helped it sell so well.
The Best PSP Games
If you’re looking for a few PSP games, here are the Top 10 games (as ranked by sales).
#1 is Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (7.67 million), a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III that was originally made for the PSP. Publisher Rockstar Games would eventually release it on the PS2 and PS3, as well as various mobile devices. In a precursor to later online modes, Liberty City Stories included an ad-hoc multiplayer for players in the same area, allowing up to six people to enjoy the same game world.
#2 is Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (5.47 million), an expanded version of the original Monster Hunter Freedom 2. As with the rest of the franchise, this title casts the player in the role of a hunter tasked with slaying a variety of massive creatures. The series is more popular in Asian markets, which are tolerant of the difficult learning curve required to truly master the gameplay.
#3 is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (5.03 million), a followup to Liberty City Stories and prequel to Vice City. Set in a fictional version of Miami, Florida, the open world allows players to explore and interact with it as they wish. Story missions are present but considered basically optional except for unlocking certain elements of content.
#4 brings us Monster Hunter Freedom 3 (4.87 million), the direct sequel to Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. This entry in the series adds new areas, new foes, and a revised combat system to further challenge players. Though it was eventually surpassed by the titles above, Monster Hunter Freedom 3’s sales in Japan made it the best-selling PSP game for some time.
#5 is Daxter (4.16 million), an entry in the Jak & Daxter series set between Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Jak II. Throughout the game, players are able to jump, drive, fight, and sneak their way through missions. There are also more than 1000 collectibles to be found throughout the game, encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny.
#6 is Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (3.73 million), the first spin-off of the series. Combat is a major feature of the game, but players are also tasked with solving puzzles, overcoming Clank Challenges, and given the option of going through a harder Challenge Mode. The plot follows the titular protagonists as they chase after a young girl named Luna after she’s kidnapped by robots.
#7 is Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition (3.64 million), a racing game by the same studio that created Grand Theft Auto. The Midnight Club franchise focuses on wild, high-speed races instead of the more realistic styles many other racing games go for, and offers five types of races in multiple settings.
#8 is another racing game – Gran Turismo (3.23 million), sometimes referred to as Gran Turismo Portable to distinguish it from the first game in the franchise. Unlike Midnight Club 3, Gran Turismo focuses on realism, and includes 833 vehicles accurately modeled on real-life vehicles. Gameplay mainly consists of beating various driving challenges, which allows players to unlock new content.
#9 is God of War: Chains of Olympus (3.16 million), the fourth entry in the franchise and a prequel to the original title. In it, the Greek warrior Kratos follows the guidance of Athena to stop a plot against Olympus, home of the gods. This particular title was widely praised for its technical expertise, and was considered by some to be the best-looking game on the PSP at the time of its release.
The gameplay consists of a mix of combat, puzzles, and platforming elements, with enemies largely drawn from Greek myths. Numerous parts of the game include Quick Time Events, where players have to time button presses correctly to beat the challenge.
Last but not least, #10 is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (3.15 million), a prequel to Square Enix’s hit Final Fantasy VII. The story focuses on Zack Fair, a member of the group SOLDIER tasked with looking for his missing comrade Genesis Rhapsodos. Unlike the main entry of the series, Crisis Core focuses on more of an action aspect as players complete missions to advance the story.
Crisis Core was widely praised for both the combat system and the storyline, making it one of the best role-playing titles on the PSP.
Modern Availability Of The PSP
Even during its normal lifetime, many people turned to PSP roms as a way of getting games for free – an issue Sony would thoroughly rebuke with the PlayStation Vita. As a discontinued console, new versions of the Sony PSP tend to be expensive (especially the PSP-3000, generally considered the ‘best’ iteration), but used versions are available for less than $100.
A bigger concern is the availability of games. Sony shut down the PSP’s access to the PlayStation store in March 2016, so it’s essentially impossible to get digital copies. However, many of them are available as downloadable titles on the PlayStation Vita, and this is the suggested route for anyone who wants to download them.
Fortunately, many physical copies of games are still available – titles with high print runs, like many of those on the Top 10 list, may even be available new. Even if they’re not, used copies are typically in good condition, especially if you buy from a reputable seller.
Either way, be sure you get a PSP charger to go along with the system (particularly if you buy a used PSP). Brand-new adapters are available for less than 10 dollars online, so they’re not a big investment even if your PSP doesn’t come with one.
Battery life is a bigger concern, especially on used models. You don’t know how long they’re going to last, and Sony discontinued production of official replacement batteries. Consider switching to a portable external battery – many of these are only about the size of a smartphone, but can significantly increase the usable life of your PSP.